How To Decode The Social Media Algorithm In Today’s Digital Times
Analytics is about understanding and using the patterns of digital data. Patterns can be invisible to the user.
For example, users don’t know their news feed is personalized. They may get frustrated and abandon the app. But if you really look at the data, the user is just as interested in the people they follow. They’re just obsessed with the people they’ve chosen to follow and the times they see them in the feed. That pattern suggests the user’s social graph is very small. It just looks crowded because of the small number of people they follow. The small number of people they follow indicates they’re not active or involved in other areas of the app, which leads to clutter.
Social media users are also bombarded by status updates. Even though users try to reduce it, they can’t help but engage with friends’ posts. If you look at these status updates as someone trying to understand their social graph, you can begin to see patterns emerge.
Just as you can decode data, you can decode the social media algorithm. What makes a post appear on someone’s timeline, for example? It can be a combination of a user’s activity level, the things they post, which may or may not be based on a direct connection to you, and how they link to other users.
By digging deeper into social media activity, you can also spot the impact of people’s mental health on their activity. When someone has post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, they are less likely to post.
Algorithms are designed to get our attention and keep us engaged. It’s the same pattern of behavior people engage in on social media when they want to share something with their network. So it’s no surprise that our attention is often captured by flashy, emotional posts. In those situations, the algorithm also works to bring people back to the feed. The algorithm is designed to engage users.
Imagine you’re watching an interesting video on YouTube. You’ll often want to share it with your friends. A nice trick the algorithm uses to get you to do this is to boost the post to the top of your feed. The idea is to make it look as if people are engaged with your content.
Algorithms are also designed to keep you there. Algorithms ask your friends what they like. They ask your friends what they want to see on your feed. The algorithm is designed to keep you there, even though you may want to abandon your feed.
It’s good to see the benefits of algorithms, but only if we understand what they do and how they’re implemented. The good news is that we can decode their pattern of action and turn it into an opportunity to improve our social media experiences.
Social media algorithms are hidden, but they aren’t unguided. They work to get people back to the feed, make it easy for them to share and grow their networks, and even to target our emotions to be more engaged and communicate more frequently.
With the announcement of yet another algorithm change to Facebook’s News Feed, it’s worth exploring how these types of changes impact the way we as marketers engage with consumers. This week, Facebook announced a major algorithm change designed to prioritize “meaningful social interactions.”
With the aim of prioritizing content that’s interesting, meaningful, and important to the user, the change will rank posts on a newsfeed in order of popularity, rather than how many shares they receive. The hope is that the shift will make the News Feed a more productive space for finding relevant and timely content.
Naturally, a number of marketers have expressed concern at the changes, warning of the potential “withering” effect of the update, which could result in more fake news (and ultimately, political advertising) flooding users’ feeds. This is largely because “readership” has become so skewed that now, when a Facebook user sees a story with a few hundred shares, they’re likely to see it as the most relevant content in their feed.
However, this begs the question: if the only content that Facebook has to promote to you is the most popular, how do you take advantage of this?
This is the primary challenge for marketers today, given the constant changes to Facebook’s algorithm and the need to optimize content for the audience.
What does an ideal Facebook feed look like?
While this may seem like a straight-forward question, the reality is that today’s digital ecosystem offers more options for content creators than ever before. For example, there are a huge number of social media platforms available to creators, including Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and even Facebook.
Because the consumer experience is such a fluid, ever-changing one, marketers need to think like consumers themselves. At the top of my own mind is Facebook, with it’s 1.79 billion monthly active users and 2.27 billion daily active users. The sheer scale of the social network means that it can have a significant influence on the way consumers interact with brands. I recently saw a research report that highlighted the fact that there are 42 trillion Likes on Facebook. With that kind of reach, it’s not hard to see why Facebook could have such an impact.
However, the findings also highlighted the fact that 75% of consumers only consume about 10% of that content, spending most of their time interacting with their friends. The key to effectively optimizing content for these consumers is to find content that’s relevant, but also brings something new to the user experience. In essence, if you can prove that your content offers something unique and interesting, it’s likely to be viewed more favorably by the consumer, thereby boosting engagement.
How should marketers respond to this type of change?
What this means is that brands need to create content that’s “social” and on topic, but also maximizes its appeal by appealing to the audience’s preferences.
Some examples of this include taking an in-depth look at a particular marketer’s service or product, or showcasing a different perspective on a topic that’s important to the audience, such as politics.
Marketers also need to look to other social media platforms to ensure they’re getting the maximum reach and exposure that they can. In fact, most social platforms aren’t created equally, which can make creating content a challenge.
However, there are a number of ways in which brands can minimize the risk of exposure, with the likes of Twitter and Snapchat offering particularly unique platforms for marketers to explore. Another great social channel that’s worth exploring is YouTube, which has a wide range of video platforms that offer opportunities for brands to market directly to their target audience. Naturally, social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram will continue to have a significant impact on how brands reach their audiences, but they must balance this with the opportunity that social media platforms provide for campaigns such as interviews, videos and branded content.
Ultimately, the consumer is king, and it’s all about catering to their wants and needs. The majority of people are not interested in forced “advertising”, but instead want to connect with the brands that they love. By providing a content-rich environment, social media platforms are helping to create the perfect environment for content creators to reach audiences.